Even if you are a real fashionista who loves to buy new clothes frequently, finding clothes that last isn’t that easy. Few things are as annoying as when you buy a new garment that begins to fade, pill, or show wear within just a few short weeks.
Even if you have deep pockets and can afford to buy more expensive brand-name clothes you are not immune. Plenty of name-brands are “cheaping-out” and lowering their standards of quality in order to pocket more money.
So, if you’re feeling short-changed and frustrated when you’re sold junky clothes, welcome to the club!
Fortunately, developing a keen eye for durable clothes isn’t as hard as you’d think.
Here are some key areas that we’ll cover today to help you spot well-made clothes:
- Know how to assess the quality of the fabric.
- Know how to scrutinize the level of workmanship/build quality.
- How to inspect the quality of accessories and closures.
Why is it So Hard to Find Clothes that Last?
Decades ago, most clothes in the market were hand-made in smaller batches. That made it easier for managers to pinpoint quality control issues and correct them quickly.
Sadly, this is no longer the case. So what’s changed?
Well, many experts blame today’s global fashion system which is over-run with greedy profiteering.
The global economic system places a huge priority on mass-produced goods for maximum profits. It’s almost impossible to preserve quality workmanship when production is at this scale.
On the other hand, players in the global fashion industry argue that we, the consumers, are the culprits for driving the demand and putting quality conscious companies out of business.
I think they are right. Generally, speaking today’s consumers are addicted to clothes with cheap price tags. As a result, this has fueled the production of low-quality clothes and even lower consumer expectations in regard to quality.
On top of it all, our landfills are filling up with unnecessary waste.
Here at WellRigged.com I help folks discern the quality from the crap.
I’m glad you’re here! If you want to know how to spot durable clothes that will last then here’s how.
How to Assess the Quality of Fabrics
You don’t need to be a garment expert to discern the quality of a fabric.
It’s very important to let your hands be your guide. Does it feel light and thin? Or does the garment feel thick, heavy, and substantial?
A garment that feels heavier and more densely woven is a positive sign that it may be a high-quality material. Garments made of high-quality materials will feel more comfortable, drape more gracefully, hold their shape, color and appearance far longer.
- Hold the fabric up to bright light. If you can see through it put it back on the rack and walk away.
- Compare the weight of a garment with similar clothing you already know is higher quality. Note the difference and leave it if it’s thinner and lighter.
- High-quality fabrics resist stretching. Lightly stretch a part of the garment by pulling a section then release to see if the fabric rebounds into shape or remains distorted.
- Check the tag to ensure the fabric is comprised of at least 80% natural fibre (cotton, wool, silk, linen)
- Look at how the fabric drapes. A more densely woven high-quality fabric is weightier. It flows and drapes over the body far more smoothly an cleanly without bunching or wrinkling. Pick up the fabric while it is still on a hanger and let it fall. It should fall cleanly and flow right back into shape quickly.
So, Are Light Clothes Lower Quality?
NO, not necessarily. Lightweight materials like cotton and merino wool are durable and are great for keeping you cool and fresh. Just keep in mind that even light garments should not be sheer.
Sheer materials are made of less fiber and a looser weave which can easily tear or lose shape. They just wear out quicker.
That’s why even light natural fiber materials such as silk should have a tight weave and not allow you to see through.
Choose Primarily Natural Fibers
Natural fibers such as cotton, wool, silk, linen, and cashmere are generally a better bet when choosing clothes that will last.
While synthetic fibres can bring levels of stability and versatility to garments, as a rule of thumb don’t buy a garment with more than a 20% portion of synthetic fiber.
Avoid clothes made from mostly synthetic fabrics like rayon and polyester since they’re prone to pilling, wearing and might require a lot of special care such as costly visits to the dry cleaner.
Natural fibers are generally softer, lighter and far more comfortable than synthetics.
Know Your Cotton
Most cotton garments these days aren’t that great. High-quality cotton fabrics are usually softer, have a shinier sheen and have a tight weave.
Quality cotton garments are made from more durable long staple cotton. Since these types of cotton fibers are longer(1.25-2.5″) than the average they can be woven more securely into at least a two-ply yarn for extra durability.
Quick Tips to Spot Quality Cotton
Squeeze a hand-full of cotton fabric in your fist for a few seconds then release it. If it looks like crumpled paper then leave it. It’s been treated with anti-wrinkle agent and after a few washes you can expect the garment to start looking wrinkled.
Look for these long staple cotton terms on the tags:
- “Sea Island Cotton,” “West Indian Sea Island Cotton, “Giza Cotton,” Supima” or “Pima Cotton” on the tag.
- “Egyptian Cotton” is ok, but is mostly become an over-hyped marketing term.
- Giza Egyptian Cotton: Giza #45 cotton is the best and almost as soft as cashmere. Lower Giza numbers denote lesser levels of quality.
- Check if the tag says how many plies the cotton has.
Be a Cashmere Connoiseur
Cashmere has not been immune to the compromised quality caused by mass production either.
The best cashmere wool is taken from the super-soft under-hair of the belly and neck of cashmere goats. These fibers are longer and can thus be woven into stronger yarns with less pilling.
Quick Tips to Spot Quality Cashmere
- 100% cashmere or a Merino cashmere blend.
- Softness does not necessarily indicate high-quality cashmere.
- 19 microns or less “combed” not sheared.
- Long fiber Cashmere(means less pilling vs short fiber)
- Chinese or Mongolian Cashmere is best(not New Zealand or Australia)
- Multiple ply yarns(the more plies the more durable)
- Avoid sheer cashmere, although soft it is too delicate and won’t last.
- Pinch and rub a piece of cashmere together. If it pills quickly you know it is made with low-quality short fibers.
- Avoid fuzzy cashmere it will pill quickly.
- Look for seamless joints. It’s a sign of top craftsmanship.
- Buy from a retailer that accepts returns. If the cashmere pills quickly just take it back.
Don’t Have the Wool Pulled Over Your Eyes
There are plenty of kinds of wool-like cashmere which is made from goats. But for most of us when we say wool we think sheep. So that’s what I’ll focus on.
When it comes to clothes that last I recomend two kinds of wool, lambs wool and Merino wool.
Lambs wool comes from the first sheering and is the softest and finest wool harvested from sheep.
Merino wool is also very fine and highly prized for its durability, thermal regulating properties and incredible ability to resist odor. Some of the best travel-wear and socks are made of merino wool.
Quick Tips to Spot Quality Wool
- Top quality wool suit jackets have what’s called a “Super number” which describes how fine a yarn is used. Generally speaking shoot for a Super 110-150. Suits in the Super 200s look great but durability starts to suffer.
- Look for Lamb’s wool or Merino wool
- Stick to majority wool blends of 65% or more.
- Contrary to the name, “worsted wool” is a good thing to see on the tag. Its made from premium longer fibers.
Look Into The Linen
Linen is made from the fibre of flax and is said to be 30% stronger than cotton. Its the oldest fabric known to man. Linen is actually strongest when wet and is also quite stain resistant. It does tend to crease so a light synthetic blend is sometimes advisable to correct this characteristic.
Quick Tips To Spot Quality Linen
- Ireland, Belgium and France make some of the best linen yarn in the world.
- The Italian mills weave the best linen fabrics. They’ve been perfecting it for centuries.
- Linen is thicker than cotton so thread counts are between 80-150 as opposed to cotton thread counts which use a much finer yarn.
- White linens are often prone to yellow over time due to whiteners often used to dye them reacting to light.
- Brands like Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren , Liz Claiborne and Banana Republic are known to utilize Irish linen.
- Since linen is particularly hard to dye look closely for inconsistency in the dye.
How to Spot Quality Workmanship
The devil is in the details. It’s not hard to spot careless workmanship once you know what to look for. One or two small imperfections aren’t a big deal, but if you are finding multiple imperfections throughout a garment then take warning.
- Try to approach a garment with a critical mind…like you’re talking to a liar and trying to find out the truth.
- Engage all your senses and intuition.
- Also ask the question, “What’s missing?”
Examine the Quantity of Material Used
It’s important to go for clothes that are made with ample material. This is a classic place where cheapskate manufacturers cut corners.
- Are the sleeves a bit short?
- How do the shoulders fit?
- Are the hems too short? Pants and Skirts should have between 1.5-2 inch hems and Shirts and blouses around 1 inch hems.
- Avoid clothes that have no hem or just have stitched edges.
- Check for fabric facing. That’s the extra material used to cover seams that creates a clean, finished look.
- On suits look for a seam down the spine. Cheapskates try to save fabric and time by not doing this extra step for a better fit.
Closely Check the Seams and Stitching
Start by turning the garment inside out. This is where all the dirty secrets of junky clothes are laid bare.
Generally speaking, clothes that will last longer should be seamed neatly in a straight fashion without any loose threads.
- Is the backstitching loose?
- Are the stitches irregular or crooked?
- Are there loose/untrimmed threads?
- Is there any stitching that seems to have been redone or corrected over the same spot?
- Does thread color change in random places?
- Any Twisted, pinched or unintentionally pleated seams?
- Look for “french” seams. They take more material and time to make but they are far more secure and durable.
- In general, look for reinforced stitching and gusseted crotches in work pants.
You can also gently pull the garment apart along the seams. If there’s any hint of separation at the seams, just run for the hills because it’s a clear indication that the garment is carelessly and poorly sewn.
Look for Linings
Not all clothes need linings, but If well crafted, linings are an extra touch of style that can also prolong the lifespan of your clothes. They help maintain the original shape and protect the garment from external factors such as oil and sweat.
The biggest factor about linings is simply the fact that the manufacturer went the extra mile and put in the extra effort and material into garment.
It’s a confidence booster that they actually have a level pride in their work.
Look for Matching and Well-Placed Patterns
There are certain patterns you do not want in certain places…ahem.* You’d be surprised how many people make this embarrassing mistake.
- Does the pattern change direction at the sleaves? If so walk away.
- If it’s a button up, does the pattern meet neatly at the closure and other seams?
Cheapskate manufacturers won’t bother with these details because it means using more material. It’s just another sign they are cutting corners in other critical places.
The Quality of Accessories Matter
As I mentioned at the beginning, the devil is in the details. Clothes that last are well made right down to the buttons and zippers. Accessories aren’t just an after-thought.
- Buttons should be substantial and well stitched with durable thread.(check the backstitching for loose or messy work)
- Look for buttons that are metal, wood or bone.
- Button-hole edges should be neatly and tightly stitched not ragged. The holes should also be adequately sized not too big, nor too tight.
- Extra Buttons usually accompany high-quality garments.
- Look for zipper tags that match the color of the garment on dress clothes- especially dresses
- Covered zippers: High-quality clothes often have zippers that are concealed behind a neatly stitched fold to create a cleaner look.
- Zippers..YKK or bust! Seriously, if it’s not YKK you’re probably looking at a sub-par garment. Don’t even look at plastic zippers!
See! You don’t have to become a victim of low-quality clothes anymore. With this information, you should be well on your way to recognizing clothes that last in the see low-quality garments we all navigate these days.
So, don’t spend your hard-earned cash on a garment if you notice a pattern of the signs I’ve pointed out above. Instead, take your time until when you’re pretty sure the garment is of high quality.
For more guides on picking durable apparel check out these posts: